Magazine article Strings

The Well-'Red' Shopper

Magazine article Strings

The Well-'Red' Shopper

Article excerpt

Thinking about purchasing a violin? Auction resources are often just a phone call or a click away

The earliest known auction of musical instruments in London was held in 1692 and included 'a number of curious violins, Cremonia and others,'" says Ben Hebbert, new musical instrument specialist at Christie's and scholar of the early violin market. "But I think the auction scene probably began in the 1670s in London."

Remarkably, very little has been published on the subject of violin auctions. Those interested in further exploration of this colorful marketplace's history will have to wait for Hebbert's thesis to become a book or join him in hunting through original documents. Fortunately, auction information of a more practical nature-what has been sold, where, when, and for how much-is more widely available. But still, for those seeking to increase their understanding of the violin auction market, the resources are few.

So where to start?

The most readily available printed resource is The Red Book: Auction Price Guide of Authentic Stringed Instruments and Bows published by Donald M. Cohen. The 2006 Red Book contains auction results from 1985 to 2005 including sales data for violins, violas, cellos, basses, and their bows from identifiable makers or manufacturers. All are in fair or better condition and considered by the auction houses to be authentic or very probably authentic. Basses and bass bows by unknown makers are also included, but their originality and condition are still taken into account. The book offers handy appendices and essays on such topics as auctionhouse cataloging terms, fictitious names of bow makers, and style points for identifying the origin of violins. Cohen plans to publish the next version in 2009. The 2006 Red Book is available from select violin shops, or you can contact Cohen directly at cohendm@ juno.com, (888) 387-9745.

Meanwhile, the Internet has made auction-sale information more readily available to researchers than even a decade ago. Internet violin auction-house Tarisio leases the Red Book data from Cohen and provides it in a free searchable online database on their website, www.tarisio.com. Click on Red Book Results.

Tarisio also maintains a photo archive of images from past sales plus photo contributions from dealers. Thumbnail-sized views are free, and access to larger images is available by subscription for $50 per year.

Those interested in buying old Italian violins should know about cozio.com, a website devoted to tracking instruments by about 200 Italian makers through the middle of the 19th century. Not only handy to prospective buyers, the site is useful to dealers, collectors, and researchers as well. Cozio publisher Philip Margolis compiles as much information as possible, including provenance, photos, certificates, published references to the instrument, the dates when it's changed hands, and the price (when known), including some private sales figures. …

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